Twenty Years of Lies over Missile Defense
“Sometimes you do evil to prevent greater evil.” – Theodore A. Postol, Professor of Science Technology and National Security at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
These words, perhaps more than any other, have guided the life of Prof. Postol for the last two decades. Postol will be the invited speaker at the forthcoming Caltech Y Social Activism Speaker Series on Apr 2, 2003, where he will again speak on his opposition to the concept of a missile shield.
His introductory bio for this event reads in part:
MIT Professor of Science, Technology and National Security Policy, Theodore Postol is a leading expert and critic of the National Missile Defense Program …. His research, in addition to experiments conducted as part of the Missile Defense Program, itself, reveals deep flaws and failures in the program, despite the $120 billion spent by the U.S. since 1957 to develop it. Most of these failures, he contends, have been censored and concealed by the Department of Defense.
On Jan 3, 2003, The New York Times published an article under the William Broad byline, “Flaws in anti-missile shield ‘covered up’.”
In this article, Broad quotes Postol extensively, presenting his thesis that the Patriot anti-missile system was essentially ineffective during the 1991 Gulf War, and that TRW, an earlier defense contractor for missile shield systems and the Defense Department were involved in massive failures and cover-ups of recent tests. Underlying this is his oft-stated position that an effective missile shield cannot be built, and that the United States should stop wasting taxpayer money on related research.
Broad’s article is a superficial condensation of an article written by Postol in the Apr., 2002 edition of Technology Review, and featured on the PBS program Frontline.
This is not a new perspective, nor is the professor the first academic to espouse it.
On Apr. 18, 1984, an opinion piece I wrote appeared as a special to the Sunday Seattle Times. I had been invited to participate in a national teleconference on weapons in space that was hosted by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). The conference originated in WGBH’s PBS studio in Boston and was transmitted live to 10 cities across the United States; the Seattle point of origin was the University Tower near my alma matter, the University of Washington. The panelists were Dr. Henry Kendall, chairman, Dr. Richard Garwin, Dr. Carl Sagan, and Adm. Noel Gayler USN (Ret.).
These panelists were no lightweights. Dr. Kendall, who was killed in a scuba diving accident in 1999, headed the Union of Concerned Scientists and was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1990 for his work on quarks.
Dr. Garwin is Philip D. Reed Senior Fellow for Science and Technology at the Council on Foreign Relations and an adjunct professor of physics at Columbia University. In 1996, he received the Enrico Fermi Award. He has been a board member of UCS since its inception.
Dr Sagan, of course, is well known to the public for his efforts to bring science to the masses. Until his untimely death in 1996, he was closely associated with UCS.
Adm. Gayler was a former Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Pacific Command, one of the highest and most responsible commands in the U.S. military. His knowledge and understanding of nuclear weapons is widely respected by knowledgeable people from across the political spectrum.
It would have been very presumptuous of me to challenge these men in their areas of expertise. Each was preeminent in his field, and accomplished far beyond anything I had accomplished or was likely to accomplish. In fact, I was flattered to be invited to participate in the conference. I had no reason to believe the conference was anything but what it was represented to be in the media: a coming together of interested scientists and engineers to examine closely the concept of “Star Wars,” as the Strategic Defense Initiative (or SDI) was popularly called.
What I discovered at that conference (which was – remember – nationally televised) was that it was a sham, a deliberately created fraud whose purpose was to convince an undecided public that any “Star Wars” kind of missile defense was useless. The format was one where panel members made 15-minute presentations followed by written questions from the nationwide audience of scientists and engineers and other concerned individuals. These questions were then answered by one of the panel members.
Because of my physical location in the room, I discovered that all the questions were screened, and only those that addressed specific points propounded by one or more panel members were aired.
In an especially poignant moment, the aging Adm. Gayler was cut off in mid-sentence by Dr. Sagan, ostensibly because of a technical malfunction, when his answer began to stray from their prepositioned agenda. The national audience heard no more from the admiral during the conference.
Remember that this conference occurred at the dawn of the effort to establish a meaningful missile shield; at the dawn of the counter-effort by the intellectual left to eliminate the possibility of creating such a shield. The organizers of that conference carefully set up examples with (to me at least) obvious flaws, and then proceeded to demonstrate how those flaws were fundamental to the underlying concept of a missile defense. The bottom line was always that if there is no effective defense (which they insisted there was not), then the only alternative solution is to disarm. How the Soviets would have loved that!
I found the event to be dishonest and deceitful.
My Seattle Times editorial guest column made this point, and then discussed from my own personal experience the undeniable unreliability of the Soviets. I argued that we could not afford to ignore the problem, and we needed to conduct whatever research was necessary to prove or disprove each concept as it was developed. In my own mind, I did not doubt the possibility of designing a working solution. I did not have the expertise personally to design a solution, but I understood the technical problems and could envision how such a solution must appear.
A missile shield was definitely doable. UCS and its leftist affiliates were politically motivated to oppose this solution, and good men allowed their undeniable abilities to be perverted to a dishonest, fraudulent scam against the public’s best interest and safety.
Twenty years have passed. Dr. Kendall won the Nobel Prize in physics, and then died tragically. Dr. Sagan succumbed to cancer. Adm. Gayler has been sidelined, but still speaks out on his pet project: the elimination of nuclear weapons. Dr. Garwin received the Fermi Award and became Dr. Kendall’s defacto replacement in this war of lies.
But Prof. Postol, who appears to be the eloquent heir apparent for all these earlier spokesmen, said it best: “Sometimes you do evil to prevent greater evil.”
This is not the venue for an in-depth analysis of the missile shield concept. Nevertheless, even a cursory examination of the problem is useful.
In order to prevent an incoming missile from depositing its lethal payload on its intended target you have several options:
* Prevent the missile from firing in the first place.
* Take out or deflect the missile during its powered boost phase.
* Take out or deflect the missile during its unpowered ballistic phase outside the atmosphere.
* Take out or deflect the lethal warhead components during their unpowered atmospheric reentry and descent.
The Cold War concept of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) effectively prevented the Soviets from launching their missiles for 40 years. With the demise of the Soviet Union, however, and with the proliferation of nuclear weapons and their missile delivery capability, things have changed.
Whereas before, we needed a missile shield to protect us in the event that MAD failed, now we need a shield to protect us initially from any small nation that might choose to launch missiles against us carrying nuclear or biological agents.
Because our initial research concentrated on the problem of deflecting or destroying incoming missiles, since taking them out during their powered boost phase was impractical, this is the area where we have the most experience. We have examined hitting the incoming missile with another missile, striking it with a high-powered laser, creating a “cloud” of steel balls through which the missile must pass at high speed, and other options which remain classified.
Once the missile discharges its payload or payloads, the problem becomes more complicated, since we then need either to distinguish between warheads and decoys, or find a way to destroy all of them.
These problems and potential problems are the focus of Prof. Postol and his associates on the left. Knowing better, he nevertheless calls them insolvable. If they are insolvable, of course, he then recommends his alternate “peaceful” solutions which are naïve at best and dangerous at worst.
In fact, we have many options for preventing launched missiles from reaching their intended targets, or from working correctly when they arrive. For example, by detonating an appropriate nuclear charge in the path of one or even a swarm of missiles, we can “fry” their electronics, either with radiation or the associated electronic pulse, rendering them useless. Instead of using a nuclear charge, we can release a large cloud of small steel pellets which at relative speeds approaching 10 miles per second will be deadly to any missile. We can use satellite-borne lasers to deflect or destroy missiles in flight, or even satellite carried anti-missile missiles.
Where we have reason to suspect the motives of a nation such as North Korea, we can surround that nation with submarine launched anti-missile missiles that need very little modification from what we presently have in our arsenal to hit any slow-moving missile during its initial boost phase.
The system being deployed by the United States in Alaska even now, is one designed to counter missiles from a relatively unsophisticated enemy that has the capability to launch several (but not many) missiles over the North Pole, but lacks the ability to include sophisticated decoys that could confuse our anti-missile missiles. Would they work against Soviet ICBMs? No, but they don’t have to. They can and will defend us from Scuds and similar “low-tech” missiles available to our potential enemies.
Prof. Postol and his colleagues should concentrate on their areas of scientific expertise, which are considerable and worthy of great respect and admiration, and give up their ill-advised campaign of left-wing deceit and hypocrisy.
Doing evil to prevent greater evil is the way of the Fascist left, reminiscent of Stalin, Hitler and history’s other tyrants.
Robert G. Williscroft is DefenseWatch Navy Editor